Outdoorsmen have long touted the benefits of leaving the wild as you found it, often called Leave No Trace. No everyone is familiar with the seven principles of this outdoor eco-friendly philosophy and, admittedly, it can be a little confusing. If you’re new to the outdoors or would just like to leave a smaller carbon footprint, here’s what you need to know.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
You can avoid a lot of simple mistakes by simply planning ahead. Research the area you plan on visiting or camping in to learn the regulations and trails. If an emergency happens you’ll already know what to do to stay safe while also not harming your surroundings. The official Leave No Trace bullet points are as follows:
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Where you camp can have an impact on the environment. It’s important to stay on designated trails and campsites so as not to disturb the local wildlife and habitats. Durable surfaces like packed dirt at pre-formed camping areas, gravel or road are all acceptable.
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it’s wet or muddy.
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Just because you’re out in the wild doesn’t mean you should act like an animal. Human waste, including stool, urine, food and water, can wreak havoc on the local habitat and displace animals from their homes. Whatever you bring in, take it back out when you leave whenever possible.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find
Along the same lines of taking your own belongings out with you, you should also leave what you find in the wild there where it belongs. Rocks, leaves and other objects can serve as homes and valuable protection for all means of wildlife. The area might also be historically significant or preserved. Avoid moving or removing anything you come across on your hikes.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires pose one of the biggest threats to the natural environment—a small gust of wind can ignite and entire forest in the right conditions. That’s why it’s important stick with established areas for setting a fire when possible and switching to an electric option when not. Avoid starting a fire whenever possible to have the smallest impact on the environment.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
One of the best parts of experiencing nature is getting up close and personal to all the beautiful creatures that live out there you wouldn’t normally see back home. However, getting too close can mean back with one less arm, or worse. Steer clear of any animals you come across outdoors. They’re just as awesome from a safe distance as they are up close and much less likely to attack.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Finally, you can get the most out of the outdoors by respecting those around you. Treating others with respect can help you avoid uncomfortable situations out on the trail like arguments or acts of retribution. Keep the noise levels down and share campsites whenever possible.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.